"I heard a voice from heaven saying, 'Son, let this woman be a bride to you in the restoration of my people. Let her be a mother for these people, regenerating souls through the salvation of spirit and water.'" (Hildegard of Bingen, Scivias)

Monday, October 3, 2016

Black Lives are Sacred Day 3: Confessing Racism

I had planned to write about yesterday's mass and readings yesterday, and might try again tomorrow. But I am still humming with joy after my new monthly celebration of the sacraments of Reconciliation and Healing with a sweet recently met Carmelite, and racism was definitely mentioned, so it is calling out to be today's topic. Katie and I laughed before I left when I realized and shared with her that my feelings about Confession are like hers about the huge rollercoasters she loves: one of my favorite things, so I am really excited when I decide to do it, then get nervous and a little nauseous and "why did I get myself into this?" right before, then have yet another wonderful experience and am so glad I did! Then she celebrated with me when I came home "so glad I rode that rollercoaster!"--especially as I found a new taqueria near the monastery so came home with carnitas tacos, chips and salsa verde, and a limón Jarritos soda to share along with the high points.

I vividly remember the first time I confessed racism--sadly, only nine years ago at the age of forty-two. Until that time I lived in blissful ignorance thinking that racism was over, except in the south and with uneducated white people, and that I was a good progressive person on the right side of the issue. And certainly don't remember ever hearing it mentioned in a homily nor in an examination of conscience (except in one book with many thorough lists by an Episcopal monk).

God started the process of waking me up by seating me next to a Black businessman on a cross-country flight, who shared the reality of his life growing up in Atlanta and then going to grad school here in the Bay Area--where he was arrested for walking while black during a late night computer lab break and suffered the humiliation of calling his adviser to bail him out. He blew my mind by saying that it's worse here because in the south everyone lives near each other and has to figure out how to get along, and challenged me about how many Black people were anywhere near my neighborhood and my kids' Montessori (basically zero despite lots of Asians and Latin@s). It was a tremendous, if difficult, gift to start to see both my deep implicit biases and the fact that I live with massive unjust rights and privileges denied to Black people and didn't do a thing about it.

I had a confession date scheduled with a priest friend during my time on the East Coast, so I added those things to my list--and soon after experienced the first round of the besetting temptations of the white person trying to address this issue: complacence, arrogance, and judgment of "less enlightened" white people. I had really been struck with contrition and new realizations during and soon after the conversation, but by the time I got the the sacramental conversation I was pretty darn impressed with myself for all of that and kind of expected praise from my confessor too. So when he instead said, in a calm and kind tone, something along the lines of: "And with the racism, you will just need to see how God works with you on that," my immediate response was "He's calling me a racist? Seriously? How dare he? Oh, right, I did just tell him that, didn't I?" Deep sigh (and deeper one from the Holy Spirit, I'm sure!)

Cue attempts to educate myself on the topic, especially via blogreading, and do more education with my kids about it, interspersed with dropping the whole issue for years at a time, and then getting pulled back in. And the same cycle of repentance, passion, overconfidence, and checking out...until I finally started to identify the Screwtape dynamics, and to confess more specific racist thoughts/words/deeds--and especially the judgment and arrogance and self-deception about superiority to other white people they revealed. And to realize that racism will always be in me, but that my 12 step style goal can be to become more and more of a recovering racist, and to take small and faithful steps, and to speak to other white people--the primary task on an aspiring white ally--out of a humble and gentle place acknowledging my own complicity and dependence on grace.

And today Friar R. was such a beautiful place of grace on the latest developments, including my commitment to join in the movement of wearing a Black Lives Matter t-shirt on Fridays in hopes of raising awareness and engaging in respectful and loving conversations with those who comment. (I don't think it was chosen because it is the traditional Catholic penitential day--but it makes it especially meaningful for me). Because my brilliant and joyful penance was to make the Stations of the Cross this Friday "for the social justice causes closest to your heart, especially Black Lives Matter." Wow, wow, and more wow.

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